Tom Williams

Oh yeah, June is National Novella Month

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2012 at 3:14 pm

I should have been out in front of this. I mean, I actually had the pleasure of hosting Dan Wickett and Matt Bell at my house this April and still I, as usual, come in to the celebration well past the halfway mark. So in honor of this most supple of fictive forms, I’m going to try to provide some wit or insight from this day until the end of June.

But first, some self promotion:

Mr. Matty Byloos, whom I met for the first time this past March in Chicago, asked me for a flash fiction for his incredible online concern, smalldoggies, and I obliged. Thank you, Matty, and I hope one day to actually be in the sainted city of Portland, OR. Check my story out at your leisure, but be sure to engage fully with smalldoggies: it’s exactly what an online magazine should be: full and furious and funny and filthy and everything else you can imagine.

Shelf Unbound, in its June issue, just listed The Mimic’s Own Voice as a “Summer Short”: “Ten novellas for literary lounging. Douglas and I should be embarrassed by the company we’re keeping in this list.

Now, to a less self-centered section of this post: I intend to say something useful about novellas that have given me great joy over the next few days. I’ll start with an easy one: Roy Kesey’s Nothing in the World.

Frankly, I love this book. I’ll give you one extra-textual reason first: I knew Roy via emails before this came out, but its original publication (by Bullfight Media as the winner of its one and only novella contest) knocked me out so much, I wanted to do whatever I could to help Roy with its being let loose upon the world, so I started to teach it. Only trouble was, so few copies existed after Bullfight went belly up. Thankfully, Roy’s friend Jim Ruland had several copies, and so it was that my students sent checks to Jim and he sent copies to me and we were all happy. Now Roy’s my friend, Jim’s my friend, and my former students at Arkansas State are the richer for reading Roy. The small press world in a nutshell right there.

But to the book itself: I will not be saying anything that hasn’t been said already about Roy Kesey’s talents: that he is relentlessly original, hilarious, erudite, and not to be read when one is having a crisis about her or his own writing ability. Everything Roy writes pulses with a kind of energy that impels the reader  to finish, while the language itself begs to be experienced slowly, like a rare and long brewed liquor that is too potent to be consumed in one draught. And the world of Roy’s fiction is so unique, not only because he’s set his fictions in places faraway and familiar, but because he has an intellectual and no doubt spiritual vision of that world that makes one question one’s own sense(s) of place(s).

Nothing in the World tells the story of Josko, a young Croat who leaves his family and pastoral home for the initial days of the Serbo-Croatian War–a conflict I remembered from CNN but knew nothing of until I plunged into the wonderfully drawn horrors of this novella. It’s a slim book–80 pages in the Dzanc Books edition–easily read in one sitting, but unforgettable too. Equal parts objective accounts of the comedies and tragedies of war (Josko’s unit is given weapons that are a “relic from World War II”) and terrifying dreamscapes that startle so much because they could be true, the book is also haunted by three parables that offer brief counters to the ravages of Josko’s experiences of war; the parables suggest miracles, hope, optimism, and then are undercut by such ominous last lines as “Then the winter came.” The book’s title, an allusion to Frederic Manning’s World War I novel, Her Privates We (“Nothing in the world is as still as a dead man,” Manning writes), becomes all the more chilling as one follows along with Josko, through training, through his stay in and escape from an ethnic cleansing camp; to his nearly complete transformation from innocent to killer. One wonders, “Is there truly no thing in the world to save this fallen soul?”

Goddamn, just talking about his book makes me want to re-read it. And I’ve got two copies.

Go on and get two for yourself, reader, as you’ll no doubt dampen your first copy with tears.

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